Astell&Kern has announced a new portable DAC to improve the sound quality of lackluster PC, Mac and even some Android phones. The AK USB-C Dual DAC Cable is designed to replace the internal audio decoding in your device and produce much nicer sound. It’ll cost $149 / £109, which is high for a dongle, but could be worth paying.
The A&K DAC is powered by a pair of Cirrus Logic CS43198 digital-to-analogue chips which should offer the ability to drive more power-hungry headphones. And this is a key part of the value of this device. If you’ve spent a lot of money on headphones then you might need a better amp to actually drive them.
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The A&K DAC has support for high-resolution audio playback at 32bit and 384kHz. Skeptics might think that’s a bit much, but having support for higher resolution audio will please the audiophiles.
It's affixed with a rugged cable, which A&K claims “enhances sound.” This can be treated with caution, as it appears to be before the DAC stage and therefore the signal will still be digital at that point, any interference would result in the audio simply not working. However having a decent cable reduces the chances of that happening, so it’s good to see. It will also ensure the DAC lasts longer than it would with a lower-quality cable.
A&K says that once the audio is turned from digital to analog, its own amp will boost that analog signal without distortion, giving listeners the sound quality their favorite artists intended. That should allow users to drive high-impedance headphones with no problems, so that pair of expensive Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNCs can sing as intended.
Interestingly, the spec sheet for the AK USB-C Dual DAC says that those with an iPad Pro are bang out of luck. This is because the DAC draws more power than Apple allows on a port. However it may be possible to use this with an external USB-C hub to provide power and get a nice quality boost to iPad Pros.
The A&K USB-C Dual DAC will go on sale in the U.K. in April and May in the U.S.
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